Travel Weekly's Las Vegas E-letter: July 20, 2004 July 20, 2004 Share 1 -- MERGER MANIA: Although regulators and shareholders still have to give their OK to what would become the casino industry's biggest deal, Harrah's Entertainment signed an agreement last week to acquire Caesars Entertainment for a record $9.4 billion. The cash-and-stock transaction is expected to be completed in about a year and would create the world's largest gaming company. The deal also would give Harrah's, which already operates 28 casinos in 12 states, 28 more casino properties in the U.S. and abroad. In Las Vegas, Harrah's would own and operate six properties -- Harrah's Las Vegas, Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Bally's and Paris-Las Vegas -- which, with the exception of the Rio, are clustered near each other on the Las Vegas Strip. Harrah's earlier this year also entered into an operating agreement with MTR Gaming Corp. to help reopen Binion's Horseshoe hotel and casino downtown. BIG DEBUT: Las Vegas has a new attraction -- and a new (and air-conditioned) way to beat the traffic on the Strip. The Robert N. Broadbent Las Vegas Monorail -- the Las Vegas monorail, for short -- debuted last week with much fanfare and, since Thursday morning, has been transporting riders along a four-mile route that runs along the east side of the Strip, from the MGM Grand to the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Stations are located at Bally's/Paris-Las Vegas; the Flamingo; Harrah's/Imperial Palace; the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Las Vegas Hilton. For the first 60 days, the system's nine, four-car trains will run daily from 8 a.m. to midnight; after that, the trains will operate daily from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Ticket prices during the train's first three months of operation will run $3 for a single roundtrip; $5.50 for two roundtrips; $20 for 10 roundtrips; $10 for an unlimited one-day pass; and $25 for an unlimited three-day pass. Tickets can be purchased at vending machines located inside each station as well as in the station's properties and online at www.lvmonorail.com.SOUTHWEST AIRLINES VACATIONS is offering discounted prices on Las Vegas air-inclusive packages booked by Aug. 12 for travel Aug. 16 through Nov. 16. Sample prices for two-night plans range from $69 per person, double, from Los Angeles with a stay at the Westward Ho to $344 per person, double, with air from Chicago (Midway) and accommodations at Treasure Island. Bookings can be made through VAX VacationAccess, in all four GDSs using the vendor code WNV or by phone at (800) 423-5683.MARRIOTT VACATION CLUB INT'L, the division of Marriott International that specializes in vacation ownership properties, announced that construction has begun on the 888-room Marriott's Grand Chateau. The property, the company's first in Las Vegas, is slated to debut in October 2005. It will overlook the Strip and feature designs and decor inspired by French country estates.IN RESPONSE TO CUSTOMERS' REQUESTS, the MGM Grand Conference Center has gone smoke free. The 380,000-square-foot facility, located on the Strip, is the first conference center in the city to offer a completely smoke-free environment, according to property officials. Designated outdoor areas for smokers -- complete with seating and ashtrays -- are available at the south entrance to the facility as well as the first-floor patio adjacent to the prefunction area. An exception can be made to the new policy for groups that book the entire conference center.